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Thursday, 18 December 2014

New Bill will see women bishops in the Lords soon

The Government has today introduced the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill in the House of Commons which, if passed, will see women bishops into the House of Lords faster than planned. On 17th November 2014 the General Synod of the Church of England completed the legislation necessary to allow women to become bishops. The Bill introduced by the Government today will make sure those women have a fair chance of sitting alongside their male counterparts as one of the 26 Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords.

Under current rules, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester automatically take seats in the House of Lords. The remaining 21 Lords Spiritual places are automatically given to those who have been diocesan bishops longest. This means that, unless the rules are changed, it could be many years before women bishops are represented in the Lords.

The Government’s Bill, which is supported by the Church of England, will suspend the current rules for the next ten years, so that if a female diocesan bishop is available when a Lords Spiritual seat becomes vacant, she will automatically take the seat.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “I am delighted that we are able to bring this Bill forward, with the support of the Church of England, which will right a historical wrong and bring a smidgen more fairness to the House of Lords. It has taken centuries to get to the position where we can agree that a woman can be just as wise, just as erudite, just as valuable to our public life as a man. We are bringing down one of the last bastions of masculine supremacy, and I look forward immensely to seeing the first female bishop take her rightful seat in the Lords."

The Bill will be taken through the House of Commons by Sam Gyimah, Minister for the Constitution. He said: "I warmly welcome the decision by the Church of England to allow women bishops. This Bill supports that decision by ensuring that when women are appointed as diocesan bishops, they can take vacant seats in the House of Lords. Without this change in the law, we would have to wait many years for women bishops to be represented in the House of Lords, and that cannot be right."

79% of public want to see the Green Party represented at the ITV Leaders Debate

Four in five members’ of the public want to see the Green Party represented at next year’s Leaders Debates. A whopping 79% of people surveyed in an poll by ICM said they would welcome seeing a Green Party representative at the ITV Leaders Debate in 2015. In the interests of fairness the question was independently verified by ICM to make sure there was no bias and also shown to ITV before polling. ITV were invited to partake in the framing of the question put by ICM but declined.

Over ¾ of the people polled responded favourablywhen asked the question :

"You may have seen or heard that ITV has announced proposals for a televised Leader's Debate in the run up to the 2015 General Election which is likely to be held in May next year. ITV currently propose to invite the leaders of the Conservative Party, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP to participate, but not the leader of the Green Party. Do you think that the leader of the Green Party should or should not also be invited to join in the ITV Leaders debate?"

Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett said: "It is clear from votes and polls that the public are fed up with the three business-as-usual parties and are looking around for alternatives. The public want a serious debate in which they hear the full range of views. They are well aware that austerity has failed even in its own terms while it has made the poor, the disabled, disadvantaged and the young pay for the fraud, corruption and mismanagement of the bankers."

"The Green Party offers a positive alternative to the Westminster “business as usual” approach to politics by the three main parties. Our policies on bringing the rail network and NHS back into public ownership resonate with the public understanding that the privatisation of public services by successive Tory and Labour governments is an expensive and damaging failure." Ms Bennent added.

The ‘Green surge’ has seen the Party, which was founded in 1973, more than double its UK membership since the beginning of the year which currently stands at just over 38000 (England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland).

* ICM Unlimited interviewed a random sample of 1001 adults aged 18+ by telephone on 12-16th December 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Scottish referendum "well run" and "provides lessons for future referendums in UK"

The Scottish independence referendum was well run, with high levels of voter satisfaction in the voting process, according to a report published today by the Electoral Commission. The report identifies important lessons from Scotland about how to run future referendums successfully, including the expected referendum on further devolution in Wales and a possible referendum on UK membership of the European Union.

At 84.6%, the turnout at the referendum was the highest for any Scotland-wide poll since universal suffrage, and the Commission found that 94% of voters who cast their vote at a polling station and 98 % of voters who cast a vote by post were satisfied with the process. This was particularly noteworthy since the Commission’s research also found that of those who reported voting at the referendum, 10% claimed to have voted for the first time.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said: “On almost every measure of participation the referendum exceeded anything we have seen before and people overwhelmingly said they found the experience of voting positive. This is thanks to the commitment and hard work of those running the referendum, but it also provides a lesson in how to legislate and plan for referendums that policy makers across the UK should learn from.”

4,283,938 people were registered to vote in the referendum. 109,593 of them were aged 16 or 17 on the day of the poll. 75% of these young people reported having voted at the referendum and, of these, 97% said they intended to vote again in future elections and referendums.

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said: “It’ll be for the relevant Parliament to decide what the franchise should be for any future election or referendum, but our report shows how it can be extended in a way that ensures 16 and 17 year olds can participate fully. Anyone considering lowering the voting age should read our report carefully and learn from how it was done in Scotland.”

The report says that any proposal to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds needs to:
Consider the timing of the annual canvass of voters so that young people are fully included in it Ensure robust plans are in place for registering and conducting public awareness activities with any new voters. Consider how the data of people not yet 16 will be protected.

The Commission has also highlighted that, whilst the date of any future referendum in the UK should be considered on a case by case basis, for referendums on high-profile issues likely to attract cross-party campaigning, such as on the UK’s membership of the EU, then the referendum should not be held on the same day as other polls. This would help ensure that campaigners are able to plan their activity more effectively and would enable voters to focus on the issues at stake in the referendum.

The Commission’s report also commends the Scottish Government and Parliament for ensuring that the legislation for the referendum was in place well before the poll. In contrast to the May 2011 referendum on the UK Parliamentary voting system where the legislation was passed just three months ahead of the polls, legislation for the Scottish referendum was passed nine months before polling day. This underpinned the effective delivery of the referendum, giving adequate time for administrators and campaigners to plan for their respective roles.

John McCormick concluded: “The Commission wants those legislating for any future referendum, to follow the example of the Scottish referendum and ensure that all legislation is in place at least six months before it has to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, Electoral Registration Officers or Counting Officers. The Scottish referendum clearly shows that early legislation not only makes for a better run poll, but also ensures the debate focuses on the real issues at stake rather than on arguments about the process.”

Updated Charter for Budget Responsibility

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander have published and laid before Parliament an updated Charter for Budget Responsibility.

The Charter for Budget Responsibility sets out the government’s approach to operating fiscal policy transparently and managing sustainable public finances in the long-term interests of the UK. The purpose of the Charter is to commit the government to reducing the deficit and debt, and to establish transparent arrangements so that it can be held to account for delivering that commitment.

The fiscal mandate in the current Charter for Budget Responsibility was first set in 2010 and reflected the exceptional fiscal challenge the government faced. The mandate targets returning the cyclically-adjusted current budget to balance over a rolling five-year period, supplemented by a target to put debt on a declining path by the end of financial year 2015-16. Since then, the government has made significant progress on its fiscal consolidation.

Public sector net borrowing as a percentage of GDP has fallen by more than a third since 2009-10 and is forecast to have fallen by half by the end of 2014-15. The government is forecast to meet its fiscal mandate 2 years early in 2017‑18, having reduced the cyclically-adjusted current budget deficit from its peak of 4.7% of GDP in 2009-10 to 2.6% of GDP in 2013-14. On the OBR’s central forecast, the cyclically-adjusted current budget will be in surplus by 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2017-18.

At Autumn Statement 2012, the OBR forecast that the target of having debt falling by 2015-16 was likely to be missed. The Chancellor explained to parliament that he would maintain the current fiscal plan, rather than change plan to meet the target. At each fiscal event since, the OBR has passed a similar judgement. Indeed, they forecast that debt is likely to be falling one year later in 2016-17. This demonstrates that the Charter and its targets have been an effective tool at publicly holding the government to account.

The current fiscal mandate will lapse at the end of this parliament and so The Autumn Statement 2014 update presents a new fiscal framework, following a review by the Government.

The updated Charter commits the coalition government to two objectives:
  • The fiscal mandate will now target returning the cyclically-adjusted current budget to balance over a three year rolling horizon. At Budget 2015, therefore, the target year for the fiscal mandate will be 2017-18. This reflects the progress that has been achieved in tackling the deficit, which means that the mandate can be safely shortened to create a tighter constraint on future fiscal policy choices.
  • The revised Charter for Budget Responsibility sets a new supplementary target for debt to be falling as a percentage of GDP in 2016-17. The OBR forecast that PSND will peak in 2015-16 at 81.1% of GDP.

A debate and vote on the Charter will be scheduled in the House of Commons for early in the New Year.

Meeting the fiscal mandate and putting debt on declining path will require further difficult decisions to be made by government. The government has set out detailed spending plans for 2015-16. Choices will need to be made about the composition of further consolidation beyond 2015-16. In order to meet the fiscal mandate and supplementary debt target set out in the updated Charter the government estimates that on current forecasts around £30 billion of discretionary consolidation is likely to be required over the following two years 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne said: "Thanks to our long term economic plan, we will have halved the deficit by the end of this parliament. I have always been clear that more tough choices will need to be made in the next parliament to eliminate the deficit and get debt falling. This Charter entrenches the commitment to finish the job and maintain economic stability.”

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander said: "Our country entered the financial crisis and recession with the largest structural deficit of any major economy. Thanks to the difficult decisions that we’ve taken, we have taken a giant leap towards eliminating our structural deficit and setting debt on a declining path. By updating the Charter today, we set out what it means to finish that job, which is crucial for creating a stronger economy, and fairer society".

Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, responding to publication of the Charter for Budget Responsibility, said: "Once again, a silly political stunt by George Osborne has totally backfired. David Cameron has just given a speech attacking Labour's target to get the current budget into surplus. But this is exactly what they are putting to a vote in this new Charter. In the Budget George Osborne talked about a vote on balancing the overall budget. Today he and David Cameron have done a staggering U-turn on this vote and are now proposing a vote on the current budget, excluding capital investment. This is the same measure of the deficit the Labour Party has been committed to targeting for the last three years. They have also changed the fiscal mandate from being a 'target' to an 'aim'. We said in January that we want to get the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament. This Charter is consistent with our position so we'll vote for it. We're not going to change our view about what's in Britain's best interests because of one of George Osborne's silly games."

Continuing Mr Balls said: "Labour will cut the deficit every year and get the current budget into surplus, and the national debt falling, as soon as possible in the next Parliament. How fast we can go will depend on the state of the economy, including what happens to wages, growth, the housing benefit bill and events around the world. But our approach will be very different to the Tories. There will need to be sensible spending cuts in non-protected areas, but we will make fairer choices including reversing the Tory tax cut for millionaires and our plan will deliver the rising living standards and stronger growth needed to balance the books. In contrast the Tories are pursuing an increasingly unbalanced and extreme approach. They have chosen to pencil in even deeper spending cuts, which would return public spending to a share of GDP last seen in the 1930s."

"They are refusing to ask those with the broadest shoulders to make a greater contribution and ignoring the need for a plan to deliver the rising living standards that are vital to getting the deficit down. And they have now made £7 billion of unfunded tax promises, which can only be paid for by even deeper cuts to public spending or another Tory VAT rise. This is a complete own goal for the Chancellor. Perhaps George Osborne should spend less time thinking up silly political games which end up backfiring and more time sorting out the economy and trying to make his sums add up." Ed Balls added.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Labour slam Tories for abandoning 'Pothole Britain'

Statistics from the Department for Transport show that there has been a big increase in the number of local roads that need fixing since 2010. Since the Tory-led government came in, another 2,262 miles of local roads are now in such poor condition that they need maintenance work. The extra distance is further than going from Land's End to John O'Groats and back again. And overall, more than 17 per cent of our local roads (over 19,000 miles) should be considered for maintenance work, according to the DfT. The figures also show that spending on all road maintenance on local authority minor roads has dropped by 20 per cent since 2010 (from £2,221 million to £1,782 million).

Local roads in particular are being ignored under this Government. A recent report by the Local Government Association has shown how the Government has earmarked £1.4 million per mile for maintenance of the strategic roads network over the six-year period to 2021, but only £31,700 per mile for local roads over the same period. On current projections, principal roads on the local network have to wait on average 33 years to be resurfaced. Although the Government have set out £976 million a year for local road maintenance - this will be a decline in real terms, to £865 million a year by 2020. It was £920 million in 2010. Local authority budgets, which also provide funding for roads maintenance, have been slashed by a third under this government. 

Councils are also now facing soaring compensation claims over pothole damage. Research by the insurers LV= has shown that over 26,000 compensation claims for damage relating to potholes were received by local authorities in the past financial year, a rise of almost a quarter from last year, with compensation pay outs now exceeding £5 million. The NAO has reported that while 91 per cent of the public are happy with the current upkeep of the strategic road network, only 30 per cent are for local roads.

Labour would prioritise better to fix pothole Britain. Labour would:

  • Prioritise funding so more money is invested in fixing potholes on local roads;
  • Ensure councils have clear asset management plans in place for their local roads by 2020;
  • Give councils new tools and power including cheaper joint procurement with other councils and joined up 'pothole and street works' plans to stop the same roads being dug up time and time again.

Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, 
Michael Dugher, said: "Ministers need to take responsibility for the pothole epidemic on our local roads. Cameron slashed spending on road maintenance in 2010 and has ignored local roads for too long. Now over 2,220 miles more of our local roads need maintenance work. Motorists are justifiably sick and tired of their cars getting damaged because of potholes. It's time to fix pothole Britain."

Ed Miliband slams 'Tory-led' Government 'failure to tackle the cost of living crisis'

Ed Miliband will today declare that the Tories' failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis has helped cost the Exchequer £116.5 billion - leading to higher borrowing and broken promises on the deficit. The price tag, equivalent to almost £4,000 for every taxpayer, is based on new research from the House of Commons Library being published by the Labour Party. This shows that low pay and stagnant salaries, combined with soaring housing costs and the failure to tackle root causes of increased welfare bills, means that over the course of this Parliament:
  • Income tax receipts have fallen short of forecasts by more than £66 billion.
  • National Insurance Contributions are £25.5 billion lower than expected.
  • Spending on social security is £25 billion higher than planned.

In opening remarks to a Q & A event in Nottingham, Mr Miliband is expected to say the test for George Osborne in this week's Autumn Statement will be to set out a plan to build a recovery for working people - one which recognises the link between the living standards and Britain's ability get the deficit down.

He is expected to say: "For a very long time, our country has worked well for a few people, but not for everyday people. We live in a country where opportunities are too skewed to those at the top, where too many people work hard for little reward, where too many young people can't find a job or apprenticeship worthy of their talents, and where families can't afford to buy a home of their own. For all the Government's boasts about a belated economic recovery, there are millions of families still caught in the most prolonged cost-of-living crisis for a century. For them this is a joy-less and pay-less recovery.

"My priority as Prime Minister will be tackling that cost-of-living crisis so that hard work is properly rewarded again, so that our children can dream of a better future, so that our public services including the NHS are safe. Building a recovery that works for everyday people is the real test of the Autumn Statement. But that isn't a different priority to tackling the deficit. Building a recovery that works for most people is an essential part of balancing the books. The Government's failure to build a recovery that works for every-day people and tackle the cost-of-living crisis isn't just bad for every person affected, it also hampers our ability to pay down the deficit.

"Britain's public finances have been weakened by a Tory-led Government overseeing stagnant wages which keep tax revenues low. Britain's public finances have been weakened by Tory policies which focus on low paid, low skilled, insecure jobs - often part-time or temporary - because they do not raise as much revenue as the high skill, high wage opportunities we need to be creating. And our public finances have been weakened by higher social security bills to subsidise low paid jobs and the chronic shortage of homes.

"The result has been David Cameron and George Osborne missing every single target they set themselves on clearing the deficit and balancing the books by the end of this parliament. Their broken promises, their abject failure, are not an accident. They are the direct result of an outdated ideology which says all a Government has to do is look after a privileged few at the top and everyone else will follow. That is why this Government has done a great job of squeezing the middle, but a bad job of squeezing the deficit. The test this week for David Cameron and George Osborne is whether they recognise that Britain will only succeed and prosper for the long term by tackling the cost-of-living crisis and building a recovery which works for the many, not just for a few. Or whether they will just offer more of the same old ideas that have failed them, failed everyday working people, and failed Britain over the past four years."

Responding to Ed Miliband's comments, a Conservative spokesman said: "Ed Miliband has no economic plan to secure Britain's future. All he offers is more of the same failed Labour ideas that got us into a mess in the first place - more spending, more borrowing and more taxes. That's why Ed Miliband is simply not up to the job."

Clegg launches biggest roads upgrade in a generation

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, will visit the A303 at Stonehenge in Wiltshire and the Woodhead Pass across the Pennines tomorrow to launch the biggest upgrade to Britain’s roads in a generation.

The Deputy Prime Minister said “For too long, our road network has been a source of frustration, not growth. There are whole regions of our country that are unable to reach their full potential, let alone get to work on time, because the essential routes that link them to the rest of the country are way past their sell-by date. I’ve been pushing hard to get key roadblocks removed, especially for the A303 in the South West, the A1 north of Newcastle and the Woodhead Pass between Sheffield and Manchester.

“In desperate need of modernisation, these roads are forever clogged up with traffic, often closed in bad weather, and just not built to deal with modern demands. To build a stronger, fitter economy in Britain, where every region can thrive, we need to change that – giving our regions’ most strategic roads the serious investment and attention they deserve.

“Past governments have done it for the South East. I want to do it for the rest of the country.” Mr Clegg added

Shadow Transport Secretary, Michael Dugher, responding to the Government’s roads upgrade announcement, said: “This is just yet another re-announcement on promised road improvements. The Government has 'announced' plans for road investment at least three times since 2013. And no additional money has been announced. Ministers will be judged not on what they promise to deliver in the next Parliament, but on what they have actually delivered in this one - and the truth is barely a shovel has been used in anger on our nation's highways over the last four and a half years."

"If Ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain's hard-pressed motorists who have been consistently let down by this Government". Mr Dugher added